The Great Connecticut Chocolate Milk Fiasco

May 27, 2014

chocolate milkHow can schools create healthy meals when politicians interfere?
Oops. On May 14, Connecticut legislators passed a ban on chocolate milk—without realizing they were doing so. Just two days later, the governor vetoed it—without realizing what he was doing either.
Why are states legislating chocolate milk in the first place? Connecticut lawmakers were simply revising the state’s school lunch program to align with the federal Hunger Free Kids Act.
The Act sets broad standards for school lunch programs, but doesn’t ban individual items. For example, it requires that all flavored milks be nonfat, but doesn’t ban any specific flavor. If states don’t comply with the Act, they can lose important federal funding.
Accordingly, the bill decreed that only unflavored low-fat milk, or flavored or unflavored fat-free milk that contains no artificial sweeteners, nonnutritive sweeteners or sugar alcohols, no more than four grams of sugar per ounce, and no added sodium, will be served.
This is where the accidental chocolate milk ban slipped in: chocolate milk almost always contains 60 to 90 milligrams of added salt, which balances out the bitterness of cocoa. So, under the bill, all chocolate milk was inadvertently banned.
Legislators’ hearts were no doubt in the right place: a surplus of sugar is harmful to kids, while artificial sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup contribute to obesity, can contain mercury, and harm your heart and liver. For more information, read our comprehensive article on the health effects of sugar and artificial sweeteners.
On the other hand, research has shown that children who drink whole milk are slimmer than kids who drink skim—so the whole obsession with low-fat and nonfat milk is misguided from the start. Additionally, the nonfat chocolate milk often served in schools contains cocoa processed with alkali, which reduces the number of healthful antioxidant flavanol compounds that cocoa can deliver. And there’s no mention of ensuring that the milk served to kids is organic or sourced from clean, non-CAFO farms.
Of course, when the media picked up on the new legislation, they didn’t question the source of the milk, but focused solely on the chocolate milk ban. “Milk consumption will plummet!” according to worried (but unnamed) “nutritionists.” “Kids won’t get the calcium they need!”
The problem is, chocolate inherently impairs your absorption of calcium. This is because cocoa contains oxalate, which inhibits your body’s calcium uptake. Additionally, most flavored milks contain sugar, which increases calcium excretion and depletes phosphorus (a mineral important to the absorption of calcium).
The brouhaha over the chocolate milk led the governor to veto the current bill. This will allow some time in which to educate Connecticut legislators, though this won’t do anything about the federal regulations. Governor Malloy is clearly concerned about nutrition, because in December 2013 he signed the state’s GMO labeling bill into law. All of this may mean a new Connecticut school lunch bill won’t be passed until next year.
Dozens of school districts across the country, including Virginia, Florida, and Oregon, have banned flavored milk, which has more fat and calories than non-flavored options. Schools in Arlington, Virginia, banned chocolate milk in 2011, but reversed the decision months later after a backlash.
We don’t think legislators should be setting school lunch program standards. However, may we humbly suggest that the next time decision-makers want to legislate what’s “nutritious,” they first consult with qualified nutrition professionals?

13 responses to “The Great Connecticut Chocolate Milk Fiasco”

  1. Michael Ponzani says:

    How come chocolate milk has bee found to be the best source of nutrient replacement in heavy duty athletes? Hmm?

    • Andrea says:

      In heavy duty athletes, is a key component of your statement. It’s likely due to the protein/fat/carbohydrate combination that allows them to refuel after training and exercising. It’s still not really a healthy choice, in my opinion, and most school age kids that drink chocolate milk every day are not in the same activity category as “heavy duty athletes.” Kids (and adults alike) are consuming too many empty calories (chocolate milk included – too much sugar) and not moving enough to prevent weight gain. Too many advertising gimmicks and false claims on food packages, highly processed foods, and lack of public knowledge of what they’re actually eating when they reach for that low-fat snack/food/drink option are all contributing components to obesity in the world.

  2. Mary Donohue says:

    When I was young, I only had two obese classmates throughout my entire grade and high school years. Now it seems kids are getting fatter due to poor diet, and less activity.
    We’re killing our children when it;s our job to protect them by providing proper nutrition. Those against proper nutrition are evidently siding with the junk food industry — yet another example of bowing to corporate power in the name of “freedom” regardless of the damage done to the health of their constituents.
    Our taxes support the public schools, and we owe it to our children to do whatever we can to protect their health. It’s not a matter of freedom, it’s a truly life and death matter in the long run.

  3. But what is a “qualified nutrition professional?”
    Dietitians are low-fat–all day, every day. Plus, they have conferences catered by McDonalds.
    Doctors sure don’t know nutrition.
    Likewise, whoever established the school lunch standards certainly didn’t get it right.
    And I could go on.
    Knowledgeable and politically-correct are different.

    • Sandy says:

      In the ’80s I qualified to become a RD, but disagreed so much I didn’t even apply for the degree. Instead I got it in biochem. RDs don’t know squat about nutrition unless they’re “force fed” it by big agribusiness! And we know that’s not going to happen. If a RD says something, I go with the opposite usually.

  4. Patr Baldwin says:

    How can schools make healthy meals with the interferance of politics? They can’t! Politians are only concerned with their own fortunes and personal power. They have been decreasing the nutritional value of our food and adding poision for many years. Keeping the population undernurished and weak only strenghtens political power and personal wealth. The Government doesn’t want healthy people who can think for themselves because they can then see how the government is trying to 1) kill us off, 2) flood our country with who will vote for them and who are not educated enough to see how they are being led and brainwashed into becoming cattle for the Government.

  5. Suzanne says:

    Great idea from one nutrition professional…and one more idea that nobody has thought to mention: make the milk/whole school lunch raw and organic from farmers who really care!!!

  6. Martin Towne says:

    When, in fact, they should be far more concerned with antibiotics and added hormones! We turned out great having to “endure” a pint of whole milk per day with our school lunches… 2% is a lot of nothing…

  7. I grew up in Connecticut in the 1950’s — I remember the TV ads saying “Make Mine Milk — Drink Connecticut Fresh Milk” (anybody else remember out there?) — what I don’t remember is any additional ad for chocolate (or any other flavor) milk —

  8. Searching for answers says:

    Shouldn’t the focus shift to providing whole, organic milk to school children, instead of CAFO-raised, gmo-fed grain fed cows, bred for high milk production, producing pus-filled crap they call milk these days?
    The quality difference is a stark reminder of where this ill-conceived path of industrial farming has gone, producing low quality results that include antibiotics and other components you wouldn’t want any student to be consuming over long periods of time…

  9. Paula Brown says:

    Consumption of dairy or any animal product is unhealthy and unnecessary for good health. Schools should serve dairy-free alternatives, as many students are vegetarian and vegan now. Milk is for baby cows, not human beings. I drink chocolate almond milk and it tastes great!

    • Tassha Tchin says:

      Your chocolate almond milk, while tasty, contains 20 grams of sugar in an 8 ounce serving (I have a carton in my fridge, so I took the time to look). This means that it wouldn’t be allowed by the -esque Federal Food Police. Non-vegan children (and their parents), the vast majority, BTW, should be able to choose what type of milk they consume. An organic whole milk choice should be offered and non-fat/low-fat milk should be banned — for the simple fact that they remove all the good fats (Omega 3 & 6) leaving only sugar, water and a hint of protein in the beverage.

  10. Blogzilla says:

    The truth is they can’t make healthy meals when government is interfering. Even if government wasn’t interfering they wouldn’t be interested in providing healthy meals. Healthy meals cost much more. And that is what it is all about.

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